Mexico City, Mexico, May 20, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) –– Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte, a key figure in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) guerrilla organization was reportedly killed Monday.
The death of Hernández, better known by his nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, was confirmed in a statement by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Segunda Marquetalia, who pointed the finger at a Colombian army operation in Venezuelan territory.
The statement said the 53-year-old rebel commander was killed by a Colombian commando unit in the border Perijá region, with the unit quickly evacuated by helicopter but not before taking Santrich’s pinky finger. The FARC hailed Santrich’s decades-long struggle and called on the Colombian people to continue the protests against Iván Duque’s government.
In response, Colombia’s defense ministry contradicted the statement, claiming instead that the guerrilla leader was killed in a firefight with another “criminal” organization.
Venezuelan authorities have yet to comment on Santrich’s killing or the alleged incursion by Colombian troops into Venezuela.
“If it is true that a Colombian army unit acted in Venezuelan territory, it represents a clear violation of national sovereignty, which we denounce as part of the policy of US imperialism to provoke a border conflict that would allow a military intervention in our country,” read a statement from the Communist Party of Venezuela. The leftist party paid tribute to Santrich’s Bolivarianism and anti-imperialism.
InSight Crime, a portal which focuses on issues related to organized crime in Latin America also said that such an incursion would “represent a violation of sovereignty with international repercussions that the Colombian government would be unlikely to court, even amid long-running animosity between the countries.”
Rumors of Santrich’s killing began circulating on Tuesday after sources inside the Venezuelan military allegedly leaked the information to Colombian outlets. Last week, Colombia’s Supreme Court approved an extradition request to the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Santrich was an important FARC‐EP commander who also served as one of the key negotiators for the rebel organization in peace talks with the Colombian government in Cuba. Santrich was selected as one of the FARC‐EP leaders to hold one of the seats reserved for the organization in the Colombian Congress as part of the 2016 peace agreement, though he ultimately abandoned his seat.
The post-accord context in Colombia, in which numerous social leaders and ex-guerrillas have been murdered, the failure of the Colombian state to uphold key provisions of the peace deal, and the politically motivated prosecution of former combatants, including Santrich, led a group of dissidents to break in 2019 with the newly formed political party and return to armed struggle.
“It is obvious that the establishment is responsible for what is going on – either directly or by omission – for the broken commitments made to poor communities and for the number of social leaders assassinated since the signing of the agreements,” Santrich told Venezuela Analysis in an interview last year.
Together with Iván Márquez, Santrich was seen as a key leader of the Segunda Marquetalia rupture group; his death represents a large setback for the rebel organization. The breakaway group allegedly enjoyed close relations with the Maduro government in Venezuela, with the Venezuelan President stating in 2019 that Márquez and Santrich would be “welcome” in the country as a result of their peace-building efforts.
The death of Santrich comes amidst heightened clashes along the Colombo-Venezuela border region as Venezuela continues its largest military operation in decades on the porous border. Caracas has pointed the finger at “irregular Colombian armed groups” operating close to La Victoria, Apure state.
These “irregular” groups are believed to be connected to the Tenth Front, which is run by Gentil Duarte and reportedly comprises around 1500 guerrillas, and previously belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) but rejected the demobilization carried out as part of the 2016 Peace Agreement.
Clashes between Venezuelan military and these armed groups have led to the deaths of over a dozen soldiers and the capture of eight others. The Venezuelan government is reportedly liaising with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to secure their liberation.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.